The unrivalled growth of iGaming in Europe has meant that some may now consider it to be a saturated market with only a few real growth opportunities still available. Bulgaria is one such territory, experiencing fantastic levels of growth in just a short period.
As with any new market, there will always be challenges and key aspects to consider, before successful market penetration can be guaranteed.
Mark Chakravarti, Head Of Investment at SportingWin spoke with us to share his thoughts on the Bulgarian market and the key aspects that will drive real growth in this exciting sector.
Last year the Bulgarian industry reputation was negatively impacted by allegations of corruption. How have public relations improved since then and how can operators best contribute to this objective?
“Following the allegations of corruption, the National Revenue Agency took over the responsibility of regulating the land-based and online gambling market; including the licensing of operators. This did not have an immediate impact and only recently have we seen a big improvement in the process following additional administrative changes.
“This has seen us receive our licence and we are now just a month or two away from making our debut in the market. What I would say, however, is that despite the allegations of corruption and changes in the regulatory body, from day one we have had to meet incredibly stringent standards in order to obtain our licence in Bulgaria
“But thanks to these changes, there is far more trust in the regulator, and the licensing process today, than there was a year ago and that is most certainly a good thing.”
When we last spoke you mentioned that you expected to see annual industry growth of 20%. Have you seen this reflected in your operational activity and what are the key products or industry trends that are going to drive this growth in the future?
“When we spoke about annual industry growth of 20%, we were only referring to the sports betting vertical. For online casino, we actually expect growth to out-pace sports at around 30% each year – this is why we have identified Bulgaria as having the greatest growth potential of all emerging European markets.
“As we have yet to launch, I can’t comment on how this has been reflected in our operational activity, but I can say that we believe a key driver of growth in the sports betting vertical will be the return of exchange betting in the country, which we will deliver through our proprietary platform and market-leading proposition.
“Bulgarian players are savvy and discerning, and they demand the same range of betting products and opportunities as those in more established markets. By providing these, we will be able to claim a large share of the market while also driving growth.”
M&A has been a key part of your growth strategy in Bulgaria. Some industry commentators say that larger companies are less agile and homogenise the variety of games available to players. How can this be avoided going forward to ensure the customer always has the best experience?
“It is true that larger companies and less agile in terms of being able to localise their offering to each of the markets they target, leading to a generic player experience that does not meet the unique preferences of bettors in specific countries. That is why we have taken a different approach to the two other foreign operators in the market, bet365 and win.
“We are launching with a highly localised product, one that has been tailored to meet the specific preferences of Bulgarian players. We have also invested heavily in a Bulgarian customer support centre as we believe this will play a significant role in offering a superior player experience.
“What’s more, our planned M&A activity in Bulgaria will not have an impact on our product offering. This is because we are ultimately focussed on the Bulgarian market with expansion plans relatively narrow across Eastern Europe only.”
Competition levels in the Bulgarian market are known for being favourable for the operator. Do you see this changing in the future? Is there still space for new operators to enter the market?
“When we go live in the coming months, Sportingwin will be only the fifth brand available to players in Bulgaria. So yes, for now, the competition is low and the size of the market large. But the barriers to entry are high which means those in the market are serious operators meeting the highest standards – we were able to secure our licence over tier one brands Betway and Betano.
“There is space for additional brands to enter the market in the future but with diminishing returns. Timing is incredibly important in any business, and for us, that meant seizing the opportunity and putting all of our resources into ensuring we secured this licence which in turn will allow us to leverage being the first mover advantage in Bulgaria. ”
“This will allow us to quickly gain market share, position ourselves for the best M&A opportunities and also deliver the best return to our investors while also making us attractive for any future funding rounds that we may undertake.”
Editor’s Note: From speaking with Mark, it’s clear that Bulgaria has come a long way and is on an upwards trajectory, to say the least.
Past issues of corruption seem to have been overcome and now the biggest challenge for operators is meeting the incredibly high level of regulatory standards while making sure you’re able to offer a product that the savvy Bulgarian bettors will see real value in. SportingWin are a prime example of this and with their new betting exchange focused product on the way, the Bulgarian market has a lot more to look forward to!